In 2014, the Chicago Bears managed only 5 wins. This, coupled with various other distractions, helped show Phil Emery the way out the door. When Ryan Pace came in, the team was in bad enough shape that 2015 likewise saw double-digit losses (10, in this case) despite having a new coach and a new general manager.
[Edit: Thanks to 46 Forever for catching the fact that I initially flipped the two years’ performances.]
Across those two years, the Bears had only 11 wins and ranked an average of 23rd in DVOA (with a “cumulative” DVOA of -19.5%). The team was clearly in sad shape, and it was going to be up to Ryan Pace to rebuild things. It was obvious that fans would need to be patient. After all, only four other teams managed to have 10+ losses in each of those two seasons. In order to be fair to the challenge in front of Ryan Pace, those four teams should be used for the sake of comparison.
This bar excludes many other teams. The Browns? They managed 7 wins in 2014 and were disqualified for having only nine losses. The Jets, the Rams, and the Raiders? Their 2015 campaigns were too strong, making them unworthy comparison points for the Bears.
So, who were those four teams? The New York Giants managed only 12 wins and had a cumulative DVOA -12.9%. In short, they were almost as desperate as the Bears. They had a quarterback with the right name and a pair of Super Bowl rings, though, and they had both an extra win and a slightly better DVOA. Their average rank in DVOA across this time was 21st, as well. They were clearly a little bit better off than Chicago.
Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-37.4% cumulative DVOA for an average of 26th in the NFL) and the Jacksonville Jaguars (-45.5% cumulative DVOA with an average rank of 29th) both managed only 8 wins in the same time; they were the Bears’ companions in adversity. Sure, they were slightly worse than the Bears in these metrics, but they were obviously really bad.
Finally, the Tennessee Titans had only 5 wins! They had a cumulative DVOA of -55.9%. Whatever problems the Bears might have had, at least they were only half as bad as the Titans. They were 31st in DVOA in back-to-back years.
It might be fair to exclude the Giants from the group of peers, but those other teams clearly struggled, as well. However, each of these teams has managed to perform better than the Bears since the close of the 2015 season.
Each team has played 25 games. The Titans have managed 15 wins for a 60% winning percentage. The Giants and Bucs both have 12 apiece (48%). The Jaguars? Nine (36%). The Bears? Six wins (24%).
The problem is not a talent gap at the outset, either. The 2014 Chicago Bears had only two “current” Pro Bowlers on their rosters, and both were under the age of 30—Martellus Bennett and Kyle Long. The Giants had one (Odell Beckham, jr.), as did the Buccaneers (Gerald McCoy). The Titans? The Jaguars? None. So, in terms of existing cornerstones to build a team around, the 2014 Chicago Bears arguably had more star power than their rebuilding rivals.
It is true that three of the four teams were able to find an answer at quarterback before Chicago. Winston and Mariota gave their teams a “head start” on their rebuilds, and Eli Manning—for all of his ups and downs—is probably a better veteran presence for rebuilding purposes than Jay Cutler was (all stats an armchair analysis aside, having a guy with two rings and the Manning name has to have an impact on the locker room that the man from Santa Claus could never claim). However, that argument leaves out the Jacksonville Jaguars, who seem to be farther along in their rebuild than the Bears and who have the quarterback services of Blake Bortles.
It also leaves out the other 20 quarterbacks taken in the draft after Mariota but before Trubisky. In other words, Ryan Pace had options to secure his quarterback of the future, and he didn’t take them.
What Pace did manage to do is find his “playmakers.” Jordan Howard is a playmaker and a Pro Bowler, and he is a true find by Ryan Pace. Leonard Floyd is also a playmaker, and he is proving himself to be a valuable player. However, it’s only fair to point out that Jonathan Bullard is far from a complete player, and also that the other teams in question had their own successes.
T.J. Yeldon and Yannick Ngakoue also aren’t bad players, and they are joined by Marcus Mariota and Jack Conklin, to say nothing of Landon Collins and Jameis Winston. However, it is fair to say that the other programs that are rebuilding have taken some swings and failed to connect. Ereck Flowers and Donovan Smith are widely criticized, and for good reason, by their fanbases.
Thus, the problem is not that the Bears haven’t had success in the draft. The problem is not that some picks have failed to work out. Rather, the problem is that they have not had significantly greater success than other teams, and that those other teams have done more to leverage their opportunities to rebuild. The Bears started Pace’s tenure with either an edge in young talent or at a neutral position compared to these other teams. They now sit (at best) in a neutral position but somehow losing more games.
Blame John Fox is you want to do so. Blame poor free agent signings. Blame injury (though, probably not in front of a Giants fan this year). Blame a curse placed on the team by evil sorcerers. However, whatever the cause, it’s time to stop pretending that Ryan Pace’s challenge was uniquely difficult. Other teams faced the same challenge in the same time, and they have found a way to get closer to competitive football than the Bears.
This isn’t a rebuild. Rebuilds happen quickly in the NFL. This is a dumpster fire.